Ready for the Reckoning? The Policy Revolution Coming For Sexual Harassment

Noreen Farrell
Feb 17, 2018 · 3 min read

How do we value women in this country? The persistence of sexual harassment across every industry is a disturbing barometer. But something monumental has happened over the past year. With waves of survivors coming forward to reveal their stories of sexual harassment and workplace violence, the public finally stopped asking whether sexual abuse happened and began to ask how do we make it stop?

Along the way, survivors exposed the broader system that profits from the devaluation of women and protects sexual predators, despite laws on the book prohibiting harassment.

Fundamentally, workplace harassment and violence thrive where women are excluded from positions of power. It festers where unequal pay or poverty wages limit job mobility. It multiples where non-disclosure agreements and secret settlements protect predators. It persists because current anti-harassment laws have not gone far enough and they don’t extend to all business relationships. They don’t give women enough time to file suit. And they don’t sufficiently protect women from retaliation, especially those most vulnerable because of immigration status, economic insecurity, and other factors.

While daunting, these obstacles are fueling another wave of the #MeToo movement — dramatic and strategic legal reform.

It begins in California, home to 12% of the nation’s women. Central Valley janitors, Hollywood actors, and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are among the many women whose experiences have informed a slate of bills that promise to be the nation’s strongest protections against sexual harassment and violence. The legislation targets gaps in employment laws, forced arbitration, secret settlements, and abuse in the legislature and non-employment business relationships. Importantly, they will bolster protections for those experiencing harassment at the intersection of race and other identities. Four leading bills from the slate co-sponsored by Equal Rights Advocates would:

· Add investors, elected officials, lobbyists, and film directors and producers to the list of professionals who may face liability for sexual harassment. (CA Senate Bill 224)

· Extend the time by which survivors may file sexual harassment claims under the state employment law from one to three years. (CA Assembly Bill 1870)

· Clarify that individuals can be held personally liable for retaliating against an employee for exercising her or his legal rights against discrimination and harassment under state law. (CA Senate Bill 1038)

· Strengthen key provisions of sexual harassment employment law to require training of all employees and prohibit the silencing of workers experiencing sexual harassment. (CA Senate Omnibus Bill 1300)

Show your support for these bills — sign the petition at www.equalrights.org/TakeTheLead.

Other states are driving #MeToo policy reform too, including Florida, Arizona, Illinois, and New York. Washington, for example, is considering bills prohibiting nondisclosure agreements that silence survivors (SB 5996) or thwart civil suit discovery (SB 6068) and another to develop employer best practices on sexual harassment (SB 6471).

States are also tackling sexual misconduct in state legislatures, with a slew of bills and mandatory training initiatives. From October to late December 2017, officials in at least 30 states were accused of sexual misconduct. Congress is also responding, with both House and Senate bills that will radically change how sexual harassment complaints are handled on Capitol Hill.

Ensuring that sexual harassment is taken seriously means we advocates go upstream to cut off every avenue abusers and serial harassers use to escape accountability.

We refuse to let the #MeToo movement fade into the next news cycle. We’re just getting started. Litigation and bold, creative policy reform across the country will transform workplaces across the country for #YouToo, and, yes, for #ThemToo.

Join the fight at www.equalrights.org/TakeTheLead

*Equal Rights Advocates will support its slate of sexual harassment bills as part of the Stronger California Women’s Agenda, a women’s economic security campaign driving reform on sexual harassment, fair pay, poverty, childcare, and family friendly workplaces. ERA thanks the California Employment Lawyers Association, co-sponsor of bills identified in this piece.

Executive Director, Equal Rights Advocates; Chair, Equal Pay Today! Campaign; Chair, Stronger California; Founding Partner, Women’s Wealth Gap Initiative

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